‘The List’ – a 13 point survival guide for curing ‘the blues’

In the first edition of  ‘How To Do Everything and Be Happy’  I discussed five Bullet Proof Layers to protect yourself against those pesky ‘External Forces’ that would trample your happy mood into the dust if they could (you can find them here).

My Bullet Proof Layers were inspired in part by my friend Agent Sparkles who a long time ago created a 13 point survival guide for preventing and curing the blues. Sparkles created her list after a difficult period in her life struggling with depression and amongst her friends ‘the list’ has become quite famous. So here it is for you, unabridged and unedited.

1)      First, and I would argue, the most important – get out of bed. Before 9am. Get up, have a shower, get dressed, put on some decent clothes, make up, and do your hair. Shave your legs. EVEN if you have no plans for the day. Don’t give yourself an excuse to feel bad about yourself.

2)      Eat good food. An example would be: Breakfast, poached eggs on brown bread. Snack, piece of fruit. Lunch, chicken salad. Dinner, piece of fish pan fried in butter with lemon (yum). No caffeine after about 2pm.

3)      Do some exercise. In a way that isn’t an excuse to beat yourself up (e.g, I can’t run, I’m too unfit, I look awful in these gym clothes, etc etc). Walk to the park. Buy the paper on the way. Lie in the sun and read. Or, go to a dance class. Walk to the gym and do the easiest thing there is, e.g sit on the stationery bike for 20 mins. Get into the pool and just float. Do a yoga class. Or, just walk to the corner store for a pint of milk. Something that used to make me feel REALLY good about myself was going to over 60’s aerobics. Yes I was fat. Yes I was unfit. Yes I was unemployed. But, was I the slimmest, youngest, fittest, and most likely to be alive in ten years person in the room? YES.

4)      Sleep. Go to bed at 10pm, with a chamomile tea, and sleep. Don’t f*ck about pretending you’re too stressed to sleep, you can’t sleep, you’ve got insomnia, blah blah blah. Count sheep. Read an algebra text book. SLEEP.

5)      Daylight. This  ties in with point 1. And I’m not even talking about SAD. If you spend all day in bed or on the couch with all the curtains closed, you are going to feel like sh*t by the late afternoon. Go back to point 3. And note: LEAVE THE HOUSE.

6)      Make a list of all the things that make you feel bad, and another list of all the things that make you feel good. Be honest. Don’t put things on the list that make you feel good just because you think they ought to make you feel good. For instance – calling or visiting your mother. If it makes you feel bad, (are you still unemployed? Are you still seeing that awful man?) don’t do it. If it makes you feel good, even if your brain says it’s lame (e.g, finding a sheet of bubble wrap to pop), do it.

7)      Have faith in a Higher Power. I know this is very AA, but it works. In my opinion, the difference between people who hang in there until life gets better and people who decide to check out early, is having faith that things are going to get better. Even if you’re an atheist, pick something to believe in. Believe in science. No matter how bad your life feels, the sun is going to rise tomorrow. And the day after that. The tide will come in. Rain will fall, grass will grow, the seasons will change. Life will get better.

8)      Do not listen to sad music. In my mind, this cuts out: Radiohead, Coldplay, Dido, Leonard Cohen, Portishead, the Smashing Pumpkins, the Smiths, Eminem and anything of a similar ilk. Make yourself a ‘happy’ play list. This will include reggae. I defy anyone to be depressed whilst listening to Shaggy’s ‘Mr Boombastic’. Beware of music that seems like it ought to be uplifting, but in fact isn’t. Perfect case in point – The Carpenters. Karen wasn’t exactly on ‘Top of the World’ was she?

9)      Ditto for literature. Do not, under any circumstances, read any Jodi Picoult. I always find Paolo Coelho to be a good one for uplifting the spirit. Give the Alchemist a try. Avoid, like the plague, self-help books – particularly the ‘you can heal your life’ sort. Light hearted detective novels work too, Agatha Christie worked for me.

10)   Let it go. The only person that you’re hurting by hanging on to your ‘demons’ is you. So your mother was controlling, your father ran out on you, your husband turned out to be an arsehole. You and the rest of the world. Maybe you have had a truly traumatic experience. Just let it go. I read somewhere that it helps to physically let things go – such as buying a whole lot of helium balloons, then writing the things you want to let go of onto a scrap of paper, tying it to the balloon, and literally letting it go. This sounds lovely in theory, but obtaining the helium balloons seems like a major hassle, and also, a lot like littering.  Other options are just to imagine your problems floating away one by one. Or think about it logically – yes, I can hold onto this problem like a barnacle, because it defines me and it’s part of who I am – but who’s going to win out if I do that, and who’s going to lose?

11)   Stop picking the scab. There are studies that show that Vietnam war veterans who received ongoing counselling to talk about their experiences, had higher incidences of self harm, alcoholism, etc, than veterans who didn’t attend counselling. Evidence suggests that talking about an experience is similar to reliving it over and over again, and actually extending recovery time. To this end – hang out with people you don’t know very well, rather than really good friends, so you can’t spend the whole time moaning.

12)   Don’t drink alone. Ever.

13)   Make a pledge that one day, when you’re ok, you’ll pass on the good turn that someone else has done you whilst you’ve been down and out, by helping someone else who needs it. I once got a call from my flat mate to ‘please come home’ – when I got in she was rocking back and forth on the floor with a kitchen knife in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. Five years later she’s 100% okay, happily married with a baby.  I was the 6th person she’d called (including her best friend and parents), and the only one who agreed to drop what I was doing and come over.

There’s a downloadable PDF version of this list here

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